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Posted: February 28, 2013 8:24 p.m.

Morgan: A new day in language

The little gray cat that usually sits in my lap when I write is missing.

My muse is taking her morning nap elsewhere, it would seem. Balancing her on my lap poses an additional challenge to the discipline of writing regularly, but because cats are mercurial with their affections, I suffer her demands willingly.

At hand are a well-thumbed dictionary and a thesaurus, despite author Stephen King’s insistence that a thesaurus is never the place to find just the right word.

Easy for him to say since he takes years to write a book, but it is for me a welcome help when deadlines loom.

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug," wrote Mark Twain.

In the lifetimes of most of us today, penmanship exercises and handwritten letters long ago gave way to words that are produced in fixed fonts on electronic screens.

We’ve gone from simple word processors to personal desktop computers to all manner of hand- or lap-held portable devices requiring a different style of composition, shorter, to the point, lacking embellishments and demanding abbreviation of words that make me question how long "real" words will survive in this culture.

Everyone had to learn to email and did, sending the postal service scrambling for relativity and purpose. (Doesn’t it now seem an egregious overreach for the USPS to have spent millions sponsoring the now reviled Lance Armstrong’s cycling and doping days? Just nod.)

Ah, but don’t you still in your heart yearn for a personally written missive to arrive in the daily mail?

On quiet days, I pour over letters I’ve kept through the years, many from my mother, others from younger siblings when I was in college or living out of state.

Sweet memories.

Several years ago, my sister Emily compiled letters she found in a forgotten shoe box that had been written to our mom from her parents between 1927 and 1946.

"Our cook ran away but we have another one now and are getting along alright," wrote her dad in one.

"We miss you a whole lot and I will come for you next Sunday for sure. So have your grips packed." I can hardly remember the last time I wrote an actual letter to someone, so shame on me.

As things like Facebook and Twitter came about, I steadily eschewed them, creating wonderment among friends and relations who tagged me a fuddy-duddy.

It’s just too much information that largely doesn’t matter, and I have no need for instant gratification unless we’re talking shoe sales.

Yet here I am today having experienced an epiphany about one of the most popular ways of connecting with people — texting, another of today’s communication options I’ve not adapted to, preferring the sound of another’s voice on a real phone call or the decidedly more flexible form of an email.

Admittedly, I have a smartphone that is far smarter than I.

Despite its bells and whistles, I might as well have stuck with an old flip phone, the kind that fits right in the palm of your hand and simply snaps open to make or take a call.

That’s really all I need or want.

Our wireless service provider keeps changing what it takes to make a call, leaving me baffled and stabbing maniacally at the screen.

But the other day, I inadvertently came across pages of texts I had been getting on my phone since, oh, September of last year.

People I care about had been texting me with this, that or the other, and there those messages sat, rudely unanswered.

No wonder my email count had been dropping. People were now texting instead of emailing. Girl, I said to myself, the train’s pulled out of the station, but there’s still time to catch it.

So it is that I’m finally learning to text.

I mean everybody’s doing it, right? For sure, no one will ever call me a trend-setter.

Thomas Jefferson never knew that his musings would find new meaning and usefulness in today’s connected culture: "The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do."

Good advice, sure, but texting format discourages complete words and commonly known phrases such as "by the way" that becomes BTW in a text or LOL (laugh out loud) in response to someone’s witticisms.

It’s a new day, Old Tom, for you and me.

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at barbm2158@gmail.com.

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